Lake Chelan water quality is at risk

by Richard Uhlhorn

Lake Chelan is an ultra-oligotrophic lake creating low algal production which allows for
the water to be clear. Unfortunately, over the past seven years the littoral zone has seen an increase in algae growth which the Lake Chelan Research Institute will be researching.

Near shore Lake Chelan water quality is in trouble!

Phil Long, director of the Lake Chelan Research Institute, presented a “State of the Lake” report to the Lake Chelan Watershed Planning Unit (LCWPU) at its quarterly meeting on Wednesday, December 8.

Phil Long, director of the Lake Chelan Research Institute, has been studying lake quality issues over the past several years.

The littoral zone of the lake is showing definite degradation with an increase of algae growth and a 20% spread of Eurasian Milfoil along the lake shore. No one living on the lake and/or using the lake for recreation wants to see what has been considered a uncontaminated water body degraded with algae, milfoil and invasive species.

“Our challenge, of course, is what has happened in the last seven years,” Long told the LCWPU members attending the meeting. LCWPU director Mike Kaputa asked if there is a way to change the emerging conditions. Long replied that utilizing Diver Assisted Suction Harvesting (DASH) could help the situation. Divers utilizing airlifts can potentially remove Asian mussels and milfoil. “This has the potential to turn back the clock,” said Long. Clay Patmont, a partner with Anchor QEA, an environmental, engineering consulting company in Seattle, agreed with Long. “We have an opportunity here,” said Patmont. Long said, “We need to Keep it Blue… Not make it Green.”

The biggest issue, of course, is funding. With a priority of working on near shore water quality, the Institute is looking to raise $40,000 beyond the $50,000 they receive from the City of Chelan – $20,000 per year; Chelan County – $10,000 per year; Lake Chelan Reclamation District – $10,000 per year; and $5,000 each from Chelan County PUD and Cascadia Conservation.

Efforts to Keep It Blue is currently under funded. If raised, the $40,000 would help get the DASH program underway. Private funding has been received from a few concerned citizens.

Lisa Dowling, a natural resources specialist with Chelan County, stated that the 2022 goal is to reduce the lake’s risk for getting invasive species introduced through a public outreach program and community meetings. “We will shift our focus to stakeholder meetings,” she said. There will also be a public survey.

Lisa Dowling, a Natural Resource Specialist at Chelan County is working on setting up stakeholder meetings in 2022 to educate, inform and seek help in keeping Lake Chelan blue.

This coming year, a mobile boat inspection unit will up and running on the lake with a grant for one year of staffing every weekend. “There will also be neighborhood inspections parties,” said Dowling.

The program will have one decontamination unit located in the Valley through a partnership with the National Park Service and the Lake Chelan Reclamation District.

Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) also has a decontamination unit in Ephrata if needed.

One of Washington State’s biggest concerns is the potential introduction of Zebra or Quagga mussels coming into the state from other states that have them.

Eric Anderson, WDFW’s aquatic invasive species enforcement manager, presented the state’s efforts of keeping invasive species from entering Washington on watercraft and trailers. Anderson reported that Washington State has the strongest statutes in the Western United States.

Currently, mandatory watercraft inspections are being conducted at major entry points to the State including Spokane to the east, Pasco to the south and Cle Elum to the west. These inspection stations operate seven days a week from April to the end of October. They are permanently funded.

Anderson shared the inspection numbers with the Watershed Unit. In 2017, at the beginning of the program, they inspected 9,054 vessels and in 2019 that had increased to 32,735. There are plans in the works to add inspection stations in Oroville, Goldendale and Bellingham.

The inspection crews also have “Wonder Dogs” that are trained to sniff out mussels. In Spokane alone, 26,939 watercraft were inspected with 38 watercraft carrying mussels. “If they (boaters) don’t want to be inspected, we can mandate that or charge them criminally,” said Anderson. “We have to inspect thousands to catch a few.”

With 31 different routes into the state, Washington is relying on other states like Idaho which has a robust water inspection program to track boats. “We also network with Canada. We’ve had great success and a lot of support,” he added. “Boats are getting a lot cleaner as we go along.”

The program was passed in the State Legislature with bipartisan support. “We told them you can spend $5 million now or $500 million or $1 trillion to eradicate invasive mussels later.”

For information on how you can help, visit and check out the various programs.

Author: allthingslakechelan

I have been a journalist, photojournalist and reporter in the Lake Chelan Valley since 1988; first with the Wenatchee World, then 15 years at the Lake Chelan Mirror and another 12 years at GoLakeChelan. Currently, I am semi-retired but can't give up the media gig which is why I started All Things Lake Chelan blog. I also have two social media platforms; allthingslakechelan/facebook and lakechelansportsandrecration/facebook. I am also a professional photographer with many credits with major outlets around the world.

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